On Thursday, February 25 Stockton University’s National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) welcomed Heart 2 Heart Services, Inc. to hold a presentation for Stockton staff and students about human trafficking for Black History Month.
Heart 2 Heart Services, Inc. is a non-profit organization whose goal is to help human trafficking victims, spread awareness about human trafficking, and to educate others about the signs and misconceptions of human trafficking. Founder and CEO Denise R. Poole led the presentation with guest speaker, trafficking survivor, and founder of Life Beyond the Streets, Khaleeqa Sadiika.
“It’s here in our communities, and we need to get rid of it,” Poole said. “The best way to do that is to understand that it exists, why it exists, how it exists, and who it’s going after.”
Human trafficking is the second largest criminal industry in the United States with New Jersey being the thirteenth state in human trafficking last year. Poole points out that this is prevalent because of our waterways, air ports, and how close we are to major cities.
While many call human trafficking “pimping”, Poole said that someone cannot be charged under that term. As a result, the term “trafficking” has been made by the United States government to bring charges against individuals.
“Human trafficking is when an individual has been recruited, harbored, or transported for the force of labor, sex, and servitude,” Poole said. “They can also be trafficked for organs. So, you have organ trafficking, sex trafficking, and labor trafficking.”
Poole also explained the difference between smuggling, harboring, and trafficking. “Smuggling is saying, ‘hey, I’m willing, take me across the border. This is what I want to do. I want to be transported over the border.’ However, trafficking is, ‘no, I don’t want it.’ At times, when people pay to be smuggled across a border line, sometimes they’re often trafficked.”
When discussing the ways in which people become victims, Poole highlighted three areas: force, fraud, and coercion.
“When we talk about fraud, we talk about someone who says, ‘hey, you look great, you can be a model,’ ” she explained, “or, ‘hey, we’re having a party on campus, and at this party there are going to some people who can set you up in what you want to do.’ ”
She added, “They begin to groom you into a relationship, you fall for them, and bam– what they wanted to do was turn you into a trafficking victim. The coercion is, ‘now this has been done to you so if you tell anyone, I know who your sister is, I know who your mother is, this is what we’re going to do to them.’ That’s just an example of fraud, or coercion.”
Human trafficking, she pointed out, is so prevalent in our communities that we tend to not even notice it. Domestic servitude, found in jobs at places like nail or hair salons, people can be trafficked for servitude.
Poole said that vulnerable people are seen as dollar signs. “They’re looking to make money,” she explained. “Back in 2015, it was indicated that this was a $350 billion industry. We know somewhere along that line, that number has increased.”
“It’s the fastest growing industry because no one knows what they’re seeing,” Poole continued, “no one is recognizing it. So, we have teens, pre-teens, adolescence, and young people who are the most vulnerable that no one would suspect. We have run always, especially black and brown children.”
The victim selection is not focused on one race, gender, ethnicity, or area she points out. People are chosen based on their vulnerability, their needs, and their wants. Anyone living outside of their regular norms are susceptible. This places college students, who experience living away from home for the first time during these years, especially vulnerable as they work to seek relationships and a community.
Sexual assault victims are also vulnerable. “We have a lot of sexual assaults in our own homes, and in our culture, ‘what goes in the home, stays in the home.’ ” Poole said. “You can’t even articulate something such as that, so the child starts to act that out in their behavior. There we have at risk youth.”
Domestic minor sex trafficking is a sub-category of sex trafficking in which those under eighteen don’t necessarily have to be sold to be victims. If the minor is used for stripping, pornography, or sextortion, in which they may not be touched but their bodies are viewed over the internet, then they have been trafficked.
“There’s something called familiar trafficking. This is where families traffic their own family members. 68% of those trafficked are acquainted with their trafficker.”
Poole also highlighted the importance of schools, and how vulnerable they are if the signs of human trafficking aren’t communicated to staff and faculty. With social media and other apps on their phones, students are more easily accessible and can be reached within school walls.
There are multiple strategies used to lure in victims and to maintain power over those being trafficked. “You may see women that you see on the street, and they’re smiling, and trying to lure you in when you walk down the street. Trust me, they are not happy. It’s not that they’re enjoying it. There’s always someone watching, and if they don’t do that then they are in trouble.”
Poole continued, “If they don’t come back with a quota, they are in trouble and the quotas often look like fourteen or fifteen times a night.”
South Jersey is a well-known area for trafficking, and does not just exist in urban areas. “Mercer County, Camden County, Cherry Hill. Some of the elite places that people think this does not exist, and in fact it does,” Poole said. “The average age of entry is twelve. The youngest age that has been detected in New Jersey, which was in Atlantic County, was eight years old.”
In the African-American community, one in every four women and one in every six men suffer from childhood sexual abuse. 88% of those living in foster care have faced sexual abuse.
“This is why we have to get into counseling.” Poole said. “’What goes in this house, stays in this house.’ We have to do away with that because it sets us up to continue to be vulnerable. For every one in four that does acknowledge that there’s trafficking, there’s fifteen in our communities that does not.”
Khaleeqa Sadiika was the guest speaker for this event. She is a human trafficker survivor, and founder of Life Beyond the Streets, a nonprofit organization that aims to take in and help victims off the streets and give them the resources they need.
Sadiika was a victim of sexual assault with no male role model who lost her brother at the age of thirteen. “Being sexually abused as a child, it gave me a misconception of what a positive relationship between a child and grown male should look like,” she explained. “I was molested by preachers, camp counselors, people we entrust our children with every day.”
At thirteen, she turned to drugs like marijuana and alcohol. She participated with gangs as a way to fit in, and became pregnant during her teenage years which made her an outcast in her family. She met her trafficker years later.
“He promised me the whole world,” said Sadiika “It’s about the wine and dine. So, he sees me, I’m vulnerable, I’m hurt, I’m lonely. He preys upon that. ‘Hi, how you doing? I’m such-and-such, I’m going to take care of you.’ ”
Her trafficker was part of a famous group in her area, and showered her with gifts. Feeling safe, Sadiika allowed him to move in with her. Soon after, he introduced her to hardcore drugs which gave him even more power. With no way out, and seeking her next fix from him, Sadiika began to sell her body to make money for him to buy her drugs.
“He would pick out what I wore, pick out where I went,” she said. “I mean, selling me to people. Selling me to men, selling me to women, selling me to handicap people. I didn’t matter. If it made money, that’s where he sent me.”
When she wasn’t making enough money for him, meeting his quota, she was left in the streets on her own. “This is not who I am, this is not what I want for my life,” Sadiika said. “I didn’t know about the resources that were available. I didn’t even know what was happening to me. I didn’t even know that I was a victim.”
She met another man who trafficked her as well. “Same cycle. Over, and over, and over. I thought this was love. Love was abusing me. ‘If I abuse you, that means I love you.’ ”
Sadiika also recruited for her trafficker. She targeted high schools, tempting young girls with the fantasy of being in music videos and being a model. “I’m showing the pictures, and I’m showing them the tour bus, and all the places that we went to. You give them a little weed, you give them a little drink. Then you introduce them to the dope, and you got them.”
Having enough of being trafficked, Sadiika found resources to help her out. She went to a homeless shelter where she received help for mental health, counseling, and rehab. Once clean and stable, Sadiika started her work to help those on the street.
“If I see one girl standing out on any corner, I’m coming to you. I’m going to approach you, I’m going to minister to you, and let you know that this is not who you are,” she said. “Nobody saw my warning signs. Nobody saw me standing on that corner crying because I haven’t eaten in four days, sleeping in abandoned cars and buildings for seven years, and bathing at the local library.”
“That was my life,” she said, “and they don’t deserve that.”
Both Poole and Sadiika push for everyone to learn the signs of human trafficking and to reach out to any resource possible. The trafficking hotline is 1 (888)-373-7888, and you can also text BeFree to 233733. P
Heart 2 Heart offers services with counselors, suggesting that people have two to three sessions with the counselor before determining if the counselor is a good fit. Life Beyond the Streets offers resources like clothing, food, toiletries, and get-togethers.